Anybody who knows me is well aware that I call ’em the way I see them. I do not walk the line of political correctness which the social media mob seems to want to publicly shame everyone into believing is “the light and the way”. This is why I am gobsmacked at how far the pendulum has swung on the issue as it relates to so-called “inappropriate behaviour” in the workplace. Are we ready to allow due process to be thrown out entirely in the name of appeasing the pc vultures in social media and/or in an effort to protect a public brand and thus a company’s bottom line? If we have learned anything from recent events the answer sadly seems to be a resounding YES!
Regardless of what you believe about recently accused media figures Matt Lauer and Gregg Zaun you would be ignorant to assume that the “investigations” into both broadcasters’ “inappropriate behaviour” rose to the level of due process (yes, I know that due process is a term used in a court of law but given that we have wrongful dismissal guidelines I would argue that due process is not only a good idea for all companies but it is indeed a requirement when terminating any employee’s position).
The brass at NBC by their own admission became aware of the allegations against Lauer this past Monday evening. He was notified of his termination on Tuesday evening. Outside of the possibility that Lauer threw himself on his proverbial sword I question whether one day of investigation, which resulted in the firing of an employee with 20-plus years of service, rises to the level of “thorough” when it comes to an investigation into the alleged incident.
The Zaun case is similar in the swiftness with which Rogers terminated the former Blue Jays’ employment following the complaints. We do not currently know the number of complainants nor what is the substance of the accusations. The accusations were filed by the complainants “this week” and Zaun was gone by Wednesday. Rick Brace, head of Rogers Media only cited “inappropriate behaviour and comments” and noted that there were no allegations of physical or sexual assault. (full disclosure, I worked at Sportsnet and was part of the company for the first year of Zaun’s tenure. I never witnessed or overheard of any inappropriate behaviour by Zaun or any other Sportsnet employee in my over 12 years with the company. Given that I worked in the communications department I would have been privy to any employee who was being dismissed for inappropriate behaviour in the workplace or for any other reason.).
While there has been much debate about the Lauer and Zaun incidents we are still left scratching our heads because the employers in both cases have been less than transparent when it comes to the details in each case. Lauer appears on the surface to have had a history of the type of behaviour which led to his dismissal. He apologised publicly so it seems that his employer NBC is on solid ground with their decision to dismiss the former Today Show host.
However, the Zaun case is troubling in the lack of transparency from Rogers and Zaun’s silence in the wake of the allegations. Unlike the written apology given by Lauer, it seems given his unwillingness to speak to the media, that Zaun may be mounting a defence against what he believes to be a wrongful dismissal. Keep in mind that this dismissal will effectively end his career as a broadcaster. Given the current public sentiment on workplace harassment I cannot imagine any company taking a chance to put him in front of the camera even if the allegations are proven to be untrue or that the allegations do not rise to a level that would warrant a dismissal.
What is even more apparent is how the media has stumbled over each other to get in line to take shots at Zaun to characterise him as a misogynistic loud-mouth who got what he deserved. To see what passes as journalism in these cases is a little sad. An article written by Cassandra Szklarski in The Globe and Mail illustrates this point. For effect, Szklarski said in the article that after becoming an analyst with Sportsnet in 2011 Zaun “repeatedly crossed the line with comments both on the air and in social media.” Her evidence of him “crossing the line”? One poor judgement call by Zaun on Twitter after an encounter in a bar in Toronto (Zaun apologised for his ill-advised tweet) and one case where he had the audacity to criticise the actions of Blue Jays’ ace Marcus Stroman on the mound as “showboating”. Someone should tell Cassandra that an analyst’s job is to provide opinion and this is not evidence of “crossing the line”.
More troubling is the less publicised dismissal of A Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor. The alleged facts of this case involve a single complaint and Keillor’s employer Minnesota Public Radio has admitted “based on what we currently know, there are no similar allegations involving other staff.”. The allegation? Keillor admits to placing his hand on the bare back of a female employee when trying to console her. “I meant to pat her back after she told me about her unhappiness and her shirt was open and my hand went up it about six inches,” he said. “She recoiled. I apologised.”
An isolated incident which could be at worst a minor transgression and at the least a slip of his hand and Keillor is sent packing. I really do not like the term slippery slope when it is used by partisan individuals and groups claiming some new government legislation will take us down the road to Stalinism but I do think the label is appropriate in this current climate of workplace harassment.
There is no denying that in the past that some women had to maneuver a system at work which was fraught with male-dominated stereotypes and behaviours that often resulted in a toxic environment for some women. However, are we willing to let the pendulum swing so far the other way so that men can now experience the fear and uncertainty of not knowing if a gesture, glance or comment could lead to them losing their job? This current road of correcting workplace behaviour is being labelled a “reckoning”. I believe for the Harvey Weinsteins that is exactly what it represents. However, I believe the Keillor incident, at least based on what we know, is moving this well overdue change in the workplace perilously close to the witch-hunt (another term I think is over and incorrectly used but applies here) phase rather than a reckoning. This seismic shift in how we treat alleged workplace harassment in my opinion represents the sterilisation of the workplace where men will now have to maneuver similar unfair workplace landmines as women had to in the past. That seems to be more about vengeance than justice.